BY ZACK BECKER
2013 Record: 92-71 (2nd Place AL East, 5.5 GB)
Ahh, finally. Some playoff teams.
Well, “playoff team” doesn’t have exactly the same meaning as it used to, but, by virtue of a tiebreaker to decide who plays the play-in game — yep, you read that correctly, welcome to the new playoff format — The Rays snuck in as the second Wild Card in the American League.
I’m not really sure how this team was any good last season, with its 6 starting pitchers going a combined 65-45 and its offense again producing near the bottom of the league.
But as they do, Tampa and mad genius Joe Maddon surprised everybody and finished second only to the eventual World Champion Red Sox. With a quiet offseason, here’s a look at the 2014 Rays.
RP Grant Balfour (2yr/$12 mil)
Balfour was really the only big addition the team made after the playoffs, which isn’t very surprising. Financial straits are usually the clouds that keep the Rays silent from December to March. He returns to Tampa on a relatively cheap deal for a closer. He’s coming off a career-best stretch in Oakland, where he helped the A’s win back-to-back division titles and brings the one piece the 2008 AL Champion Rays were missing: postseason experience.
Other than Balfour, the Rays flew well under the radar this offseason. Their lineup is almost unchanged.
RP Fernando Rodney — His weird hat style will be missed, but his low ERA and high save conversion rate? Look for those two things to stick around as Balfour slides into the closer role.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Matt Moore. After Moore came up in 2011 and dominated the Yankees in a late-season start, I knew he was the real deal. Then, his 2012 left some things to be desired. He reclaimed his excellence in 2013, going 17-4 with a 3.29 ERA. If he can continue to develop into a superstar pitcher, he and David Price form a formidable 1-2 punch at the top of a young rotation.
Projected Opening Day Lineup
Like I said, this team did very little in the offseason — but they never really do. Maddon gets these guys to play the game right year in and year out. I expect nothing different this season as this group of guys will be right in the hunt for a playoff berth, and possibly, with some luck against the Sox, a division title.